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“An inconsequential boil” or a “terrible disease”? Social perceptions of and state responses to syphilis in the late Ottoman empire

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From the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the Ottoman state started to perceive syphilis as a dangerous menace threatening the security of the state and the welfare of society. It therefore began to undertake measures to contain the disease and prevent it spreading. In particular the province of Kastamonu became the hub of the campaign against syphilis and the central government set up an invasive system of enforced pre-nuptial health checks, regular controls of the hamams and barber shops there, as well as imposing restrictions on the mobility of local residents, controls which had a direct impact on the everyday lives of the population. Among these measures the effective application of pre-nuptial health checks, directed at both male and female subjects of the province, was hampered by the resistance of the population, who did not perceive syphilis as dangerous, and in consequence the local and central governments and their agents, such as the medical personnel, who were responsible for the imposition of such measures, were forced to modify some measures and ignore others in order to avoid a confrontation with the local population.


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